Crawley Town Football Club 1896 – 2011
Over 110 years of proud history and now a Football League club
Crawley Town FC was formed in 1896 and played their formative years in the West Sussex League. Five years later they entered the Mid Sussex League and won the Senior Division in only their second season.
They remained in junior football until they entered the Sussex County League in 1951. The club then switched to the Metropolitan League in 1956, a competition for both professional and amateur sides. Still retaining their amateur status Crawley won the Metropolitan League Cup in 1959.
Crawley adopted professional status in 1962 and joined the Southern League the following year. For the next 20 years Crawley played in the First Division in its various guises, apart from a brief taste of Premier Division football in 1969-70. In 1983-84 under manager John Maggs Crawley finished runners-up to RS Southampton and returned to the Premier Division where they remained until 2003-04.
The club enjoyed various cup successes over the years, winning the Sussex Professional Cup in 1970, the Gilbert Rice Floodlight Cup in 1980 and 1984, the Southern Counties Combination Floodlight Cup in 1986 and the Sussex Senior Cup in 1990 and 1991. The Sussex Floodlight Cup was won in three consecutive years from 1991 to 1993 and also again in 1999.
In 1991-1992 Crawley enjoyed their best ever run in the FA Cup and reached third round where they enjoyed a money-spinning local derby with neighbours Brighton and Hove Albion at the Goldstone Ground in front of 18,301 fans. Earlier, they had knocked out Third Division Northampton Town 4-2 at Town Mead in the first round.
In May 1997 the last match was played at Town Mead, the club’s home since 1949. After 48 seasons the ground was sold for redevelopment and the club moved to the magnificent Broadfield Stadium. The first match there was a friendly against Port Vale on July 24 1997 and the stadium was officially opened on October 19 1997 by the then Minister for Sport Tony Banks MP.
In 1999 the club went into a two-month period of administration and Maggs’ involvement after more than 30 years as goalkeeper, manager and chairman came to an end but Crawley Town emerged stronger under new owner John Duly whose arrival ushered in a period of success on the pitch with young manager Francis Vines, who was appointed in January 2003. Reds ended that season strongly, finishing seventh in the Southern League and winning the League Cup and Sussex Senior Cup.
The following year, Crawley wrapped up the championship in convincing style, ending 12 points clear of the rest and adding their second successive League Cup success and the league’s Championship Match trophy for good measure. The league game against runners-up Weymouth saw a new ground record crowd of 4,522 witness a 2-1 victory in February 2004. The title was wrapped up with four matches to spare after a 3-0 win at Welling sparked emotional celebrations from a large travelling contingent.
The club drew widespread praise in their first season in the Conference as they finished the best-placed part-time team, starting life at the new level with a 2-1 victory over Leigh RMI. The newcomers claimed some notable scalps and stayed involved in the race for a play-off place until the spring before ending with another cup success when the Southern League Championship Trophy was retained with a 2-0 success over runners-up Moor Green. A home match was shown live on national television for the first time when Setanta Sports covered the victory over Morecambe 2-1 at a snowy Broadfield which raised hopes of a challenge for the play-offs. Their form tailed away, however, and they finished 12th but Reds retained the Sussex Senior Cup by beating Ringmer in the final at the end of the season.
In 2005 the club was under new ownership as the SA Group took control and made the decision to go full-time. But poor results at the start of the season, culminating in an FA Cup exit to Ryman League Braintree Town, saw Vines replaced by former Chelsea and Swansea manager John Hollins in November 2005. Hollins set about pulling the club out of relegation trouble but with crowds dwindling due to inconsistent results financial problems beset the club once again and an announcement came in March 2006 that the players and management staff were only being paid 50% of their salary.
Key players departed but despite off-field setbacks Reds reeled off five successive wins in April to steer clear of relegation trouble. They eventually finished 17th, ten points clear of the drop, but at the end of the season the club was deducted three points from their total for breaching the annual playing budget although this did not affect their final league position.
The news the fans feared – that it was to enter administration for a second time in seven years - came at the start of June. With debts of £1.4 million the SA Group put forward a deal whereby football creditors would receive the full amount owed to them and all other creditors receiving a quarter of money owed. This deal was rejected by the administrators who put the club up for sale as the new season loomed.
Despite reported interest from a number of parties in purchasing the club only the SA Group put forward a revised offer which was again rejected, this time by the creditors committee, leaving the club on the verge of being liquidated. Crawley Town was just over an hour from extinction when a third offer to pay back half of monies owed to creditors was accepted by the administrators and eventually by the creditors committee.
Starting the season on minus ten points, the customary penalty for entering administration, Hollins and his newly assembled squad won the first three games of the season, all but wiping out the ten-point deduction inside a week. But form dipped with four successive defeats in September and Hollins and Lewer paid the price with their jobs after another FA Cup exit to lower-league opposition. First team coach John Yems and players Ben Judge and David Woozley were appointed joint caretaker managers until the end of the season.
The trio made a fine start collecting ten points from a possible 12 and even sat in the top half of the table at one stage. They finally secured safety on the final day of the season after a draw at home to Kidderminster Harriers enabled them to finish 18th.
Vice President Victor Marley became the club’s new chairman in May 2007 and appointed the former Boston United manager Steve Evans with Paul Raynor as his assistant, the pair having guided the Pligrims to the
Conference title in 2002.
The club suffered another off-field setback on the eve of the new season with the announcement that six points were to be deducted, a punishment upheld on appeal in October 2007.
More encouraging was the announcement from the administrators that all monies owed under the CVA had been paid leaving the club with a clean bill of health financially. It was still a difficult season though and Crawley had one of the smallest budgets in the Conference but they finished a creditable 15th and reached the quarter-finals of the FA Trophy for the first time in their history and the Sussex Senior Cup final.
In April 2008, a new era dawned for the club when Prospect Estates Holdings Limited took control of Crawley from the SA Group in conjunction with former owner John Duly. With former director Bruce Winfield and local businesswoman Susan Carter now key shareholders alongside Prospect Estates the club went from strength to strength. In October 2009 Bruce Winfield announced that Crawley Town would finish the season debt-free 18 months after the new owners had inherited liabilities of more than £500,000.
In July 2010 Winfield announced that he and Carter had become majority shareholders and had attracted new investment into the club, some of it from overseas. This enabled Steve Evans to start rebuilding a squad which had finished a superb seventh in 2009-10, the best position in the club’s history. In the next six months a total of 23 new players arrived and the investment paid off spectacularly with Reds challenging for promotion to the Football League and enjoying the best FA Cup run in their history, reaching the fifth round where they earned worldwide recognition for a brilliant performance at Old Trafford where they lost to a single goal to Manchester United in front of a crowd of 74,778.
In March 2011, Bruce Winfield lost his brave battle with cancer three days after watching the team take another big step towards promotion with victory over promotion rivals AFC Wimbledon.
And history was made on Saturday, April 9, when Reds won promotion to the Football League after beating Tamworth 3-0 to stretch their unbeaten league record to 26 games. Reds finished the season with a Conference record points total (105) and also set a new record for the longest unbeaten run, having extended it to 30 matches by the end of the most memorable campaign in the history of the club.